Skip to main content
measurement. Thus, Hall (119) estimated that the ratio of illegal to hospital abortions is 100:1. This figure may be compared to a ratio of 4:1 in Denmark, where laws have been liberalized. A committee of the Arden House Conference on Abortion reported in 1955 (62) that "a plausible estimate of the frequency of induced abortion in the United States could be as low as 200,000 and as high as 1,200,000 per year." Based on the studies of the Institute for Sex Research, Kinsey (62, pp. 50, 54) estimated that among white females 10 percent would have at least one induced abortion before the age of 20 and 22 percent before age 45.
Another result of the restrictive laws is the disgraceful inconsistency of various hospitals in interpreting or implementing the written law. One condition may be accepted as indication for abortion by one hospital and flatly refused as illegal by another hospital in the same city or state. Guttmacher (97) in a provocative critique of the existing laws reported that the abortion committee in a large hospital in Harlem allowed ninety-eight therapeutic abortions. The indications were in accordance with the law in only thirteen cases. In the remaining eighty-five cases, the committee "at least bent the law, if it did not fracture it."
A most serious aspect of the restrictive laws is the discriminatory nature of their application. Gold et al. (87) report that the incidence of therapeutic abortion is five times greater among whites than nonwhites, and twenty-six times greater among whites than Puerto Ricans in New York City. They also noted the higher occurrence of therapeutic abortion among private (mainly white) than "ward" patients (mainly nonwhite). (See Table 16.) In a recent review of therapeutic abortion research, Lyon (120) observed that the "affluent woman is much more likely to be aborted than her indigent sister."
Although not strictly legal, psychiatric indications have been increasingly invoked as reasons for abortions all over the country. These reasons are invoked much more frequently for private patients who can afford the psychiatric consultation and a place in a hospital. In the New York City
Therapeutic Abortion per 1,000 Live Births in Several New York Hospitals
Type of Hospital Service 1951-53 1960-62
Proprietary 6.3 3.9
Private service 3.6 2.4
General service 1.9 0.7
Municipal 1.2 0.1
Source: (87). in the 1970's a movement began in several state legislatures to make abortion a decision of a woman and her physician, indicating that opinion and policy may be going beyond the Model Penal Code.